Ask Ken, 03/12/2004

“In an MMD booster draft this past Saturday at a local gaming store, I was faced with the following possible first picks: foil Crystal Shard, Grab the Reins, Spikeshot Goblin, or Glissa Sunseeker. The pack was quite possibly the best pack of Mirrodin I’ve ever seen, and I had no idea what to pick.” Plus the Good Man of the Week, all in the latest edition of Ask Ken.

Welcome back to the special weekend edition of Ask Ken. You may wonder, why is this night different from all other nights? Well, my weekend column is special because I get to crown the good man of the week. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a little Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s question comes to us from Jeff Hulbert. Jeff writes:


In an MMD booster draft this past Saturday at a local gaming store, I was faced with the following possible first picks: foil
Crystal Shard, Grab the Reins, Spikeshot Goblin, or Glissa Sunseeker.  The pack was quite possibly the best pack of Mirrodin I’ve ever seen, and I had no idea what to pick.  I finally settled on the Shard, but wondered what your opinion on the correct pick would be. 


Jeff Hulbert

Allanon130 on MTGO

Well Jeff, this pack is tough indeed. I don’t think there is a question that Grab the Reins is the most powerful card in the pack. But as hundreds of draft analyses have shown us, the best card is not always the best pick, even first pick first pack.

We can eliminate Spikeshot Goblin immediately. If you are determined to force Red, it is the second best card in the pack in that color. Glissa is another easy cut in my opinion. Green is the worst color to draft in Mirrodin, Mirrodin, Darksteel (MMD) and even if it weren’t, there are two cards more powerful than it.

This leaves us with Crystal Shard and Grab the Reins. These two cards both have a lot of merits as cards, and as first picks. Crystal Shard is not nearly the color commitment of Grab the Reins. Also, you didn’t mention any other Blue in the pack, so signal wise you are fairly safe.

However, if you take the Grab the Reins, passing the Spikeshot Goblin isn’t much of a concern since there are two cards better than it left in the pack. My pick would be Grab the Reins. I think it is a more powerful, more versatile card, and the risk you run by taking it is minimal.

A final point – if your local drafts are weak enough, you can safely take the Glissa, as you can win the draft with a less powerful card, and then you get a rare out of it.

The Source for proper draft picks,

Ken Krouner

Ah draft dilemmas, my bread and butter. It was nice to come back to it again, but now it is time for our Good Man of the Week!

When appointing a Good Man of the Week there are many factors to consider: Play Skill, Integrity, Sense of Humor, Originality, Flattery of Yours Truly, and last but not least, being a short, bald, Irish Bouncer.

Sure I haven’t judged on the final criteria nearly enough, but don’t you think it is about time that the best short, bald, Irish bouncer I know gets the award?

In many ways, this is a posthumous award. John Larkin seems to have retired from this game we all love so much, and as such, may never hear of this honor. After playing with the man in the Top 8 of a World Championship (*Shameless self-promotion), and at a poker table in New Orleans, I can say there are few in this game we love that deserve it more.

John is always wearing a smile, but is not above putting his foot halfway up your ass if you cross him. John pays his debts, gives to charity, and can make a whole room of gamers laugh. The game is worse for his departure and his presence will be missed on the Pro Tour.

So John Larkin, for being the shortest, baldest, most Irish bouncer I know, I award you Good Man of the Week!

Join me next week as I answer a topic many thought was dead, and one a certain Star City featured writer wishes was. Enjoy the weekend everyone!

[email protected]


Welcome back to yet another addition of Ask Ken. Have I bored you all to tears, or merely imparted so much knowledge on you that there are no questions left in the universe? I can only assume the former, because, hey, where else do you get this much entertainment and this much knowledge in one place? You should consider that a request for more questions. And with that, it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s letter comes to us from scenic Iowa, home of Ray Kinsella. Baseball dreamer or supreme nutcase, you be the judge. Bill Stark writes in asking:

Mr. Krouner,

What dirt can you tell us about the rift in YMG regarding a tech leak during PT New Orleans?

Also, if you were in pack one, pick one and had to choose between Mindslaver and Mirror Golem, which one would you pick?

Bill from Iowa

(I’m mostly kidding about the draft question)

Well Bill, I’m glad you asked. Of all my areas of expertise, I’d have to say Pro Tour gossip is my best one, and that is a statement. During that PT, YMG had more leaks than a submarine with new screen doors installed. They had a deck that they were all confident in – Food Chain Goblins.

The first leak was Gabe Walls. Gabe decided to put his friendship with Bob Maher, Dave Williams, and Neil Reeves over his professional relationship with YMG. Gabe gave them all the decks that YMG was working on. Gabe’s indiscretions stopped there.

That brings us to CMU-TOGIT’s involvement. CMU-TOGIT was given the deck by a source that is unknown even to me. I was on the team at the time, but the source of the leak was never revealed. We got the deck fairly early on in the process.

A week or so after we got it, I traveled to Boston for a weekend of fun with former PT regular Chris Senhouse and Brian Kibler. Also in attendance were Darwin”Mess” Kastle and Joe”Mouth” Kambourakis. Kibler and I were staying at Mouth’s house, and I had two decks on me – The Food Chain deck, and the Tinker deck most of us wound up playing. I brought these decks in the hopes of meeting up with Matt Rubin and getting some playtesting in. Mouth decided to spill the beans about the Food Chain deck. [Shocking. – Knut] He only mentioned it in passing, and Kibler and I did our best acting jobs to get the other one to believe we had no idea what he was talking about.

YMG hardly ran a tight ship for that PT. I have to wonder if Jeff Cunningham maneuver wasn’t in some part retaliation for what happened prior to New Orleans. Either way, Cunningham, as clever as he is, is a good man.

The answer to your second question is: Mindslaver.

The Source for PT Dirt,


That’s about all the time I have for today, tune in tomorrow when we take a look at one of the most powerful packs of Mirrodin cards you could open in a draft. G’night everybody!

[email protected]


Welcome back to yet another edition of Ask Ken. Thanks for tuning in every day to get the very best my brain has to offer. In a couple of years, Martha Stewart can tell you the best way to dress your prison life partner, but in the meantime, listen to me ramble about some Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s letter comes to us from Matt Gunn. Matt writes:

People always say to get better I need to play with people that are

better than me. The thing is no one wants to play with bad players, so how do I get them to play with me?


Well Nirien, or Matt, or whatever you call yourself these days, you present an interesting problem here. There are two reasons pros don’t like to play with non-pros. First is laziness. Many pros don’t care much for casual play, and some don’t even practice before Pro-Tours. You will never get these players to play against you. They are a lost cause and a general drain on the community. Just kick them in the shins and be done with them.

The second, and more understandable reason is that Pros, while very good at Magic, are not perfect. They also need to improve their game. The only way they will accomplish this is by playing against players around their level. A good way to get in a game or two with the Pros is to go to your local PTQs, and when you see them milling around, ask for a game. Most players who are qualified and still show up at PTQs would be happy to oblige you.

If you want to get into a regular testing group with Pros, then that is much tougher. You need to prove yourself. Gone are the days where you can just follow them around, lending them cards, being really nice and doing them favors to get them to accept you… unless your name is Josh Ravitz.



That’s all I have for today. Tune in tomorrow when I dish some dirt about some PT players. G’night everybody!


Wow has another day gone by already? You have to be kidding me! Well we here at Ask Ken are going to do our best to ensure you get the very best answers to your questions day in and day out. We love to hear from you and our crack team of me is here to deliver you the very best in advice, answers, and dirt.

One thing I haven’t delved into too much here is Constructed. But I sure do want to. So with that in mind it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s letter comes to us from Michael Benedetti. Mike writes:


Ah muppets. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thanks for the laugh. I read and enjoy every day.

Now to my question…

I am a card player going on nine years (of playing Magic, not age). I think I have a fairly decent grasp of the game and I can win a few drafts here and there but why oh why do my constructed ideas fail? I have a great idea for a deck for Type Two or Block Constructed. I work on it in my basement laboratory for days. After much churning and bubbling and a few rounds of animal testing I actually test it against a”good” (read internet) decklist and *poof* my deck is trounced horribly. Are there only a finite number of good decks and do the pros think of all of them? Are my good ideas actually terrible because I am a very very bad person? Is netdecking the only way to be competitive in a tournament? Gosh, what’s a guy to do? Help me Obi-Ken Kenobi, you’re my only hope!


Thanks for the compliments Mike, I sure do appreciate it, and as the reference to yesterday’s column shows, the more you suck up, the quicker your question will be answered! [Oh dear, did we really want to set this precedent? – Knut, afraid]

There are many reasons our mad genius fails us. The most common I have found is that often times our vision is too narrow. You haven’t provided me with a list, so I can’t say for certain why your decks fail. But many times people will find two cards that work powerfully together and decide they want to build a deck around them. The key to Constructed is to find sixty cards that work together in harmony, not just two (or eight). People find their combos and try to get them to work together.

The decks you find on the internet have been tested and re-tested to become the powerhouses that regularly top 8 events. They are developed with an overarching concept rather than focusing around a few cards. The exception to this rule is when the combo ends the game for a small resource commitment. In this instance, you want to build your deck around getting to, and supporting these cards.

Another problem people often encounter also related to narrow vision are hate decks. Someone might take a deck that includes

4 Shatter

4 Oxidize

4 Echoing Ruin

4 Detonate

and so on because they are sick of losing to Affinity. All of the sudden, that person has to play a match against Goblin Bidding or MWC and you get taken out like the trash.

The third major flaw in deck building is a general lack of synergy. You build a deck that has a little something for every archetype, but no way to control what parts of the deck you draw. This leads to inconsistent results.

The best way to develop a winning deck is to not give up after the net decks hand you your rump. Keep playing. Let them smash you fifteen, twenty, fifty times. Find out what works, what doesn’t and move things around. Don’t give up. High Tide, Senor Stompy, Illusions-Donate, these were all decks in a rough form in the mind of a mad genius at one point.


Karting Kenneth

Well that’s about all the juice I have for today. Keep those e-mails coming, I have some in the vault, but I am always looking for fresh meat! G’night everybody!

[email protected]


Well it’s on to week two here at Ask Ken. Keep those questions comin’ kids, because you can’t get them answered if you don’t write in. Speaking of writing in, it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s question comes to us from Elmo. Elmo took time out of his busy schedule on Sesame Street to write:


In a recent two-on-two money draft (MMD) my first pack contained
Luminous Angel, Fangren Hunter, Pyrite Spellbomb, Silver Myr, Vulshok Battlegear, and Creeping Mold. What do you think best card in the pack, and what would you first pick?



Well Elmo, there are a lot of things to consider when doing money draft, much more than those in a regular draft. In a money draft you have a smaller set of opponents, and you know exactly who they are. This means that in addition to drafting a good deck for yourself, you want to make sure that your opponent’s decks are as weak as possible. I have learned that in this format you generally want to avoid Green. If you take the Luminous Angel, odds are the person to your left will take one of the two Green cards and then you run the risk of your partner taking the other one and getting cut off in two of the packs.

The way I would handle this is to take the Pyrite Spellbomb. Then I would move into White cutting off the person to your left, stranding the Angel in the sideboard. This also has the added bonus of allowing your teammate to put the person on his left in Green, and then cutting him off.

The Pyrite Spellbomb is the pick, but it is a difficult thing to see at first glance. Of course if you are drafting against experienced money drafters like Bert and Ernie, you will have to rethink things, as the Luminous Angel would send a big warning sign.

Tell Big Bird hi, and tell Oscar to chill the f*** out.

Your Pal,


It is nice to see Magic growing in the muppet community. I eagerly await the time they will capture their first top 8 slot. So keep those e-mails coming, and remember it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. So long!

[email protected]